Every guy on the five-a-side team

It’s the taking part that counts

The GK who thinks he’s Manuel Neuer

Richard: here’s a sample of some of the differences between you and Manuel Neuer. You’ve never won the Champions League – Manuel Neuer has. You’ve never won the World Cup -Manuel Neuer has. You haven’t been capped 63 times for the German national side – Manuel Neuer has. You didn’t make the Fifa World Cup Dream Team in 2014 – Manuel Neuer did.

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Why are you trying to play like him then? Why are you punching the ball ineffectually to the best player on the other team at every corner? Why are you trying to head the ball when you could just catch it? Why are you coming out past the halfway line when we have the ball? You Richard, you’re why we lose every week. Joachim Löw says Neuer could “play in midfield” and you know what Richard? Joachim Löw is definitely right about that, but it doesn’t apply to you mate. Stay on your line.

King Leonidas

“LET’S FUCKING DO THEM BOYS” – Ed’s gathered the lads into one of his “motivating” pre-match huddles. You let him rant on, like a mad dog let off a leash barking at lonely pensioners in the park, as everyone quietly stares at their boots, waiting for him to finish.

Doesn’t speak English

Yannick is the friend of a friend of a friend who’s somehow ended up filling in for Gary this Wednesday. Is he French? Spanish? Polish? Nobody is sure but judging from the understated grunts he greets you with it’s clear he can’t speak much English and even if he could, he wouldn’t want to speak to you anyway. Dressed entirely in a black tracksuit with no obvious branding, Yannick spends the warm up smoking and taking selfies.

Five minutes in and Yannick hasn’t touched the ball, he’s just walking slowly around the pitch, arms dangling at his sides. Pity mounting, someone passes to him. It’s like magic: his centre of gravity lowers, the ball welds to his foot, the skills are breathtakingly insouciant. He is Berbatov, Laurent Robert, Adel Taarabt. Yannick doesn’t just humiliate the three players he strolls past before scoring the first of the seven goals he notches that evening – he rinses them. Yannick can only say “yes” (this means give him the ball) and “no” (this means you should have given him the ball) but it doesn’t matter: he is the team now.

Tom is sorry everyone: he’s ‘sorry’ after fucking that simple square ball to give David a goal on plate, he’s ‘sorry’ when he misses that header, he’s ‘sorry’ when he doesn’t make that tackle, he’s ‘sorry’ that he’s too unfit to close down properly, he’s ‘sorry’ he sent that penalty into a satellite-troubling orbit after insisting he take it (Tom is yet to score this season), he’s ‘sorry’ for the own goal he scores every week, the own goal which deflects off his arse at a corner, the own goal volleyed spectacularly past your keeper from a full 15 yards – Tom is sorry guys.

If you don’t start mixing it up with a “my bad” every now and then Tom we will stop inviting you along.

The guy who is awful but occasionally scores worldies

Leo is a terrible footballer. His movements are stiff and unnatural. He can’t run or pass or jump. He doesn’t play any position, he doesn’t understand the game or even particularly like it. But as you all say approvingly over a Nandos after the game, to be fair to Leo he does score worldies. Twenty-five yarders that travel like missiles, impossible volleys that rip through the net, delicate, playful chips that actually delight you, technically brilliant bicycle kicks that leave opposition goalies powerless and bewildered. Leo does one of these every six months and it’s enough to make you all forget that he’s actually shite.

Most improved

What’s the secret Gibbo? New diet? Private coaching? Those fancy new Nike Phantom II’s you bought with the money from you got when your grandad died? Gibbo is playing with a tranquility, a balance, a poise he never possessed and never seemed as if he would posses. Tell me your secrets Gibbo.


I’ll be honest here, Adam is only on the team because he has really long legs. They look like noodles. Thinner than his arms and freakishly long, they’re the kind of legs that’ll be removed from his body by curious doctors after he dies, pickled and put on display in a sinister medical school. We’ve all speculated about the legs – longer than Viera’s or Kanu’s or Papa Bouba Diop’s? Probably. It’s why you call him noodle, it’s why everyone on the other team laughs when they hear you call him noodle.

Shirt off

It’s the 18th December and it’s about four degrees and a light snow is falling at Alperton Goals. Your breath comes out of your body like a thick mist, your nose is pug wet and nobody is taking the piss out of the guy who’s wearing a snood (everyone is, if anything, quite envious of it).

But Jamie’s got his shirt off. Maybe it’s like the way he only drinks Stella, maybe it’s the way he renames the group chat “The Firm” when he drinks too much Stella, maybe it’s his terminal, inane Englishness – as with holidays on trashy Spanish party islands, five-a-side is an excuse for Jamie to take his shirt off. Decent player though.

‘I should probably see the physio about it’ guy

Carter just fucking make an appointment already and stop wasting everyone’s time.

The Needler

Lofty is a firestarter, a twisted firestarter. He’s never thrown a punch in his life, he never will throw a punch in his life. He doesn’t swear or get angry. What exactly does he say, what exactly does he do to make everyone on the other team want to break his legs? You’ve caught fleeting glimpses of little pinches, cheeky shirt tugs and let’s not forget Lofty does love a controversial dive. But it doesn’t explain the sheer red-faced hatred he manages to elicit from the opposition.

The one with shin pads

So it’s going to be like this is it Freddie? Shinpads mean one thing: Freddie is going to be sliding around and hitting people as hard as he can. Which is exactly why you reduce him to decimals the first time he gets the ball.

Captain. Leader. Legend.

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Jake, mate, you’re taking this too seriously. Even if you were any good (and you’re not) turning up to a casual Friday night Powerleague game in a full Chelsea kit, complete with captain’s armband would be too much. He does it anyway. When Jake says something on the pitch he cups his hand around his mouth as if he’s shouting across acres not yards. Jake points and gesticulates a lot instead of running. He buys a new bottle of Lucozade for every game and never shares it with anyone. Who made Jake captain again?

Only ever kicks with his toe

Kevin we’ve played together for five years now and I still don’t understand why you refuse to acknowledge the existence of your instep. It’s there Kev, please start using it.

All the gear, no idea

Headband: check. Wristbands: check. Boots that cost over £100: check. Portugal kit with Ronaldo on the back: check. As useful on the pitch as a guy with no feet: bingo.

Wall ball

Everyone who’s ever passed the ball off the wall to get past me, swaggering away with a chuckle and a misplaced sense that they’re Messi, well, everyone who’d ever done that is a prick.

Harrison if the aim of this game was kicking the ball up, up, up, up, up, up – like you do every single time we play – over the fence, over the floodlights, higher than passing seagulls, higher than low flying passenger airlines and down into adjacent parks, or trees, or roofs, or the faces of innocent passers-by, or other pitches, you would be one of the greatest players this sport has ever seen, you would be lauded around the world, you would be the face of adverts for Japanese soft drinks and Turkish airlines, you would go to film premiers, you would shag women who would not be interested in you otherwise, you would have a multi-million pound contract with a Juve or a Barca or a City, someone like me would ghost write your autobiography, you’d sit on the MOTD sofa and deal in platitudinous banalities with Alan Shearer, you would be great and beloved and immortal – you are that good at Peter Kaying the ball out of the game every week.

But that’s not the aim of the game is it Harrison?

Fat guy who’s surprisingly good

Fair play to you Wayne.

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Fat guy who’s just a fat guy

Maybe take up another sport Joel.

Here for the crossbar

Jase does things differently. Jase walks around all match with all the purpose of a man who’s smoked a couple of blunts before settling down to watch a David Attenborough doc on Netflix. He’s a liability. But then the games over, everyone’s packing up to go home and suddenly Jase is alive, fetching the ball, launching it at the crossbar, hitting it with surprising frequency, gathering the rebound with an eagerness and enthusiasm entirely missing from his normal play. They should make a new sport for you Jase and let the rest of us get on with the real one.

Tunnel vision

The only thing Arthur can do is run in a straight line with ball directly into the corner. It’s like he’s doing lengths during a game of water polo. He knows it, you know it but there’s nothing that can be done.

George Orwell

In Orwell’s haunting essay about his primary school days, Such, Such Were The Joys, first published in 1952, he notes his lack of sporting prowess:

There was also cricket, which I was no good at but with which I conducted a sort of hopeless love affair up to the age of about eighteen.


Is there a more accurate description of Jack? Jack who reads Jonathan Wilson columns and recommends following Zonal Marking on Twitter. Jack who knows who the manager of Vietnam is, who can tell you who’s top of the Senegalese league right now. Jack who’s knowledge of all football across the globe since about 2003 is vast and google-like in it’s reach and scale. Jack who knows everything and is still appalling at actually playing the game, who, like Orwell, is conducting a hopeless love affair with a game which will never love him back.

The guy who is living – living  – off the one good game he had back in 2012

Yes, you did nutmeg that guy Knightsy. Yes, you did score an absolute thundercunt that day Knightsy. Yes, I’ll give it you Knightsy, you were unplayable. Did you ever do any of that stuff before? No. Will you ever do any of it again? Almost certainly not. Is it time to bring the curtain down on these interminable anecdotes – yeah, I’d say so.

Too good to pass

None of us are as good as you Frase but you don’t have to be such a prick about it.

Always turns up high af

Elliot’s arrived on his weird, rickety bike that has loads of sellotape where the grips should be on it’s handles. It doesn’t look like it has breaks either… That’s not the first thing you notice though, because before you see Elliot you smell him, the fresh fresh fresh stench of high-grade, superpotent skunk. You put him in goal and he doesn’t save much.


Possibly a psychopath, or maybe just someone who hates all other human beings, Nathan has rocked up to Goals wearing heavy, angry looking red and black boots with fencepost-sized steel studs on them. Good thing he’s on your side then.

The team who turn up in matching 2013-14 Ibra’s name on the back PSG shirts

Every single one of youse is a dickhead.

Ron Weasley

A confidence player, Michael is either a composed, robustly serene mini Maldini or a complete Philippe Senderos. There is no inbetween.

The guy who’s ten years older than everyone else

Tony is bald and he’s so old that he reminds you of death, the immovable obelisk on all our horizons. He’s wearing a 2002 Brazil shirt and after three minutes play he’s so red and sweaty that you consider calling an ambulance – Tony looks like a cardiac catastrophe waiting to happen. Then you realise, somehow, without actually moving, Tony is running the entire game, Tony is a mastermind, a paunchy, baggy, hacking, squelching phenomenon. You’d still rather be 20 than good at football though.

Does skills outside the penalty box

Stop it Mo, ffs.